"He thinks he's a real tiger-killer and can have his way with me. No, I won't give him the chance."
"Please, he won't hurt you," begged Director Yu.
"Look at his eyes--they give me goose bumps. No, I won't have anything to do with him."
Desperate, Secretary Feng shouted at us, "Who'd like to play the tiger?"
There was no response, only a grasshopper snapping its whitish wings in the air. Then an explosion was heard from the distant mountain, where granite was being quarried.
Director Yu added, "Come on, it will be fun, a great experience." Seeing nobody step forward, he went on, "I'll treat whoever takes the part to an eight-course dinner."
"Where will you take him?" asked the young truck driver, Little Dou.
"Four Seas Garden."
"You really mean it?"
"Of course--on my word of honor."
"Then I'll try. I've never been in a movie, though."
"You know the story Wu Song Beat the Tiger, don't you?"
"Just imagine yourself as the tiger being beaten by the hero. Crawl and
roll about, keep shaking your head until I say, 'Die.' Then you fall down and begin to die slowly."
"All right, I'll give it a shot."
Huping was already in his outfit, but this time not wearing the cudgel.
They wrapped the small driver in the tiger's skin and tied the strings around his belly. Director Yu said to him, "Don't be scared. Try to be natural. He'll wrestle with you bare-handed. This tiger skin is so thick that nothing can hurt you."
"No problem." The driver spat on the ground, then pulled on the tiger's head.
The director raised his hand, an unlit cigarette between his index and middle fingers. "Action!" he called.
The tiger crawled into the grass, wandering with ease. Its rump swayed a little. Huping leaped on its back and began riding it around, shouting,
"Kill!" Gripping its forelock with his left hand, he hit the tiger hard on the head with his right fist.
"Oh, Mama!" the tiger squealed. "He's killing me!"
Huping kept punching until the tiger staggered, then collapsed. Just as we were about to intervene, Director Yu motioned for us not to move. Old Min laughed boisterously, bending forward and holding the swell of his belly with both hands. "Oh my! Oh my!" he kept saying.
Meanwhile, Huping was slapping the tiger's face and spat on it as well.
The animal screamed, "Spare me! Spare me, Grandpa!"
"He's hurting him," said Secretary Feng.
"It's all right," Director Yu assured him, then turned to the crew. "Keep the camera rolling."
I said, "If he cripples Little Dou, it'll cost us lots."
"Don't put such a jinx on us!" the director snapped at me. I held my tongue.
Finally, Huping got off the motionless tiger, but then he started in ferociously kicking its flank, head, neck, face. His boots produced muffled thuds as he cursed, "Kill this paper tiger! I'm going to finish him off!"
How frightened we were! The driver wasn't making a sound at this point. Huping stepped aside and, picking up a rock as large as a melon, muttered, "Let me smash this fake."
We ran over and grabbed him.
"Stop it!" the medic yelled at our hero. "You've already beaten the crap out of Little Dou!"
Huping wouldn't listen and struggled to reach the tiger. It took five men to restrain him, wrench the rock from his hands, and haul him away. He shouted, "I killed another tiger! I'm a real tiger-fighter!"
"Shut up!" Director Yu said. "You couldn't handle a tiger, so we gave you a man."
Hurriedly, we removed the animal skin from the driver, who was unconscious. His lips were cut open; his mouth and eyes were bleeding.
Excerpted from The Bridegroom by Ha Jin Copyright© 2000 by Ha Jin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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